Government 'did not listen to local experts' before bringing in lockdowns

4 October 2020, 11:36 | Updated: 4 October 2020, 12:45

Tom Swarbrick and Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston speak on LBC
Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston speaks on Swarbrick on Sunday. Picture: LBC

By Joe Cook

Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston has told LBC’s Swarbrick on Sunday local expertise and experience "wasn't tapped into" before introducing stricter coronavirus restrictions.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the measures on Thursday, with social mixing anywhere apart from public outdoor spaces banned in Middlesbrough.

But Mr Preston told Tom: “We have a bunch of local expertise, science, data, experience of our economy and our people and our culture and that wasn’t tapped into.

“If the government had talked with us and decided ‘You know what we have listened to you but we are going to go with our plan anyway’, then fair enough, if we’re listened to.

“But we think the government missed a trick. They have got the hardest job in the world...but they need to work with local expertise.”

The Mayor has been critical of the measures, describing them as “draconian action” that will “stop the virus but will also stop the hospitality trade, damaging jobs and it will damage mental health”.

“Clearly the first priority right now, for all of us, is to restrict the spread of the virus,” he said, “but this crisis, which was about Covid cases, is now much bigger. It is about Covid cases, it is about general physical health, mental health and jobs.

“What we need now is action, restrictions and government interventions that cover all of those things.”

Mr Preston said local data showed “80 percent or more of all infections are happening in the home”, but that the local government wanted people to still be able to meet socially distanced in gardens and cafes.

“We need more intelligent, more pragmatic action,” he told LBC, but added: “Whether we like it or not we have to follow the law.”

The new rules bring Middlesbrough and neighbouring Hartlepool in line with seven other local authorities in the North East.

Mr Preston said he did not know when the government would lift restrictions in the city: “We need to know when we will come out. What are the terms? What does a successful lockdown look like? And nobody seems to know that right now.

“I’ll be pushing government to get us out, because we need to protect jobs. This is about more than just the number of infections. This is about lives.

“We have got to work together: councils, central government - work together, tap into local expertise for more pragmatic solutions to local problems.”

The Mayor's comments come as one of the government's senior advisers claims the science suggests local lockdowns aren't working to reduce Coronavirus cases.

Professor Robert Dingwall, who reports to the SAGE scientific advisory group, says we need to look more at social behaviour, instead of adding restrictions.

"There is only one of the local lockdown areas, Luton, where there appears to have been any benefit from the lockdown and cases are rising again there. Which strongly suggests to me that many of the measures are ill considered or at least lack a clear evidence base," Professor Dingwall said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists that tighter restrictions are necessary to help reduce the spread of coronavirus, but has admitted it is "too early to say" whether local lockdowns are effective in reducing infection rates.